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Dhaka terror fallout: Assam sounds high alert on Indo-Bangla border

Rajeev Bhattacharyya | Updated on: 4 July 2016, 22:34 IST

The terror attack in Dhaka has prompted police in Assam to sound a general alert to prevent infiltration by jihadists into the state from the neighbouring country.

"A general alert has been sounded across the state. All superintendents of police have been instructed to intensify patrolling in vulnerable areas and gathering of intelligence," director general of police Mukesh Sahay told Catch.

Earlier, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) had sounded an alert over the possibility of the growth of ISIS in at least five states including Assam.

Also read - Alarm call: why the Dhaka attack is Bangladesh's moment of reckoning

Assam, incidentally, is among the three states that have seen the highest number of internet users browsing for information about ISIS.

Controlling the border

Police in Assam have reasons have to be concerned since the fencing of the Indo-Bangla border is yet to be completed. Patrolling becomes extremely difficult during the rainy season since border outposts are either washed away or destroyed by the rivers that flow across both the countries.

Illegal immigration from Bangladesh has also continued for many decades. On 3 July, the Border Security Force (BSF) had apprehended 13 immigrants at South Garo Hills in Meghalaya who were trying to cross the border.

Assam is among the three states that has seen the maximum flurry of internet activity about ISIS

A senior police official says, "According to the new law enacted by the Centre, people from the minority communities in the neighbouring countries would be allowed to stay in India without valid documents. But how can we ensure that terrorists do not come in with fake identities?"

He claimed that many Bangladeshi nationals were staying in New Delhi and other metropolises in the country by assuming Hindu names. "There is simply no way to ascertain whether they are speaking the truth. The government ought to have considered the pros and cons before arriving at such a decision."

Assam and the immigrant

The implication of such a development is more serious in a frontier state like Assam that has a history of land grabbing by illegal immigrants, bloody riots and activities of jihadi outfits.

In the past year, modules formed by the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) in Assam have been busted on several occasions. As many as 35 suspected activists have been arrested so far.

Also read - Nightmare in Dhaka: how the terror attack unfolded and what was behind it

There are many immigrant occupied regions in the state, including the riverine (char) areas where even the police fear to tread. Some months ago, TV news channels had aired a video showing a police official being thrashed in Morigaon after he had gone to apprehend a suspected immigrant.

The instruction from the police chief to strengthen intelligence gathering mechanisms can be understood in the backdrop of the menacing situation that has engulfed Assam.

In the past year, several modules formed by the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) have been busted

A press release issued by the police headquarters admitted the presence of JMB modules in the state but ruled out any activity by ISIS.

The focus of the exercise is on Dhubri, Karimganj and the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) that have a high population of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.

Inspector General of Police L R Bishnoi, in charge of BTAD, told the media that checking has been intensified in market places, hotels, railway station and the inter-state border area after the alert was sounded.

He revealed that among the persons who were arrested last year in Chirang were a few jihadists from Bengal with a Bangladesh connection. Their plan, he says, was to float an outfit similar to the JMB.

The investigation disclosed that several camps were being run in the guise of martial arts training schools where videos of the riot in BTAD four years ago were shown to draw recruits.

A fragile balance

Insecurity is high among a section of the illegal immigrants following the update of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. The exercise has unearthed submission of fake documents as evidence of citizenship. It is estimated that lakhs of people would be identified as alien citizens once the process is completed.

Another police official in BTAD explained that the possibility of a riot being triggered by extremists at this juncture cannot be ruled out. "They include militants from both sides, including the banned National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). Riots and violence always serve to expand the support base and attract fresh cadres."

Areas that have traditionally been support bases of the NDFB have also been identified in BTAD. The deployment of police, paramilitary personnel and intelligence sleuths has been increased.

More in Catch - Assam Election 2016: Illegal immigration, Bengali Muslims & the AIUDF factor

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First published: 4 July 2016, 22:34 IST
Rajeev Bhattacharyya

Rajeev is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of 'Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India's Most Wanted Men'.